Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Holden Caufield--still relevant?

First off, I love J.D. Salinger and all of his books. So I was surprised when, as my step-kids went through that particular reading phase in high school when they were assigned Catcher in the Rye, they reported that they kind of hated it. Whaaaat?

One big problem, they said, was that they couldn't really relate to Holden, the teenage, trash-talking, car-wreck of a main character. As I thought about it, it made sense. I mean, the language is dated. Holden's lifestyle--tony prep school, money, a lot of freedom, doesn't resemble the way most kids live. (Unless you watch "NYC Prep." And here's a tip: Don't.)

I ran across this article in the Times the other day, that speaks, in fact, exactly to the lack of rapport modern kids (Gee-yod that sentence makes me feel old) feel with this book and this character.

So why am I bringing it up at all? Because Catcher in the Rye was the first book I ever read that made me think someone got what it felt like to lose a sibling. I read that book not as the story of a typical disenfranchised teenager, or as the amusing romps of a rebel teen, but as the diagram of a nervous breakdown, brought on by the loss of Holden's younger brother, Ally, to leukemia.

I don't have the book in my office, or I'd quote from it. I'll post a few quotes shortly. But, really, it's heartbreaking, particularly the section from which the book's name is drawn. I never see this aspect of the book talked about, which I find odd. Maybe it's just me, looking for siblings and sibling loss. I am, of course, prone to that. But...I don't think so. Sibling loss is a theme, in fact, in every single one of Salinger's published books and short stories (God only knows what's in the pile of unpublished stories he's reputed to have written.)

At any rate, I was bummed when my step-kids weren't into the book. And I guess it sort of saddens me to see it get dated in the eyes of so many. But, for me, as a bereft sibling, it will always be relevant. Give it a read if you've got the time. And read Salinger's other stuff, too. It's well worth it.


Anonymous said...


You have inspired me to re-read CITR. I just began. I never liked it...only read it once and never understood the hooplah. I now read it with a completely different set of eyes. I will let you know what I discover.

I love reading your words and Mike told me I should let you know. Your book was very moving and interesting to me.

I never lost a sibling but my mother essentially dissapeared when I was about 9. For me this has been almost the opposite of your loss because while adults and such would not/could not acknowledge your terrible loss and deep grief...they would never stop talking about mine. While there are so few words written about sibling loss (until now!) there are volumes of fiction and non about "mother loss".

It is an interesting split.I am "supposed" to feel my loss 24 hours a day and be broken and damaged and wrong...you are "supposed" to supress your loss and protect those older than you.

Anyway, thank you for yuor words and your bravery...you also have given me great insight into the importance of the relationships my children have with each other.

So thanks, and I'll let you know how Holden and I do together this time around!

Julie Carolan

Elizabeth said...

hi, thanks so much for your note. i'm sorry about your mom. not to echo the what sounds like sometimes overbearing interest of others in your loss, but it does sound like it would be hard--both the loss and dealing with OTHER people's reaction to it, as well. it is interesting, the contrast in how the losses are perceived.hope you enjoy citr the second time round...i have to say, i completely get what my stepkids say about it, i am just so fascinated by the fact that a) people don't see the loss as a significant part of this book (it's never mentioned as playing a role in holden's behavior or decline) and b) that salinger returns to this theme in franny and zooey and every short story he writes. it's always there, in one way or another.